Anne-Marie Trépanier is an artist, editor, and cultural worker living in Tiohtiá:ke, with a practice that sprawls between writing, experimental publishing, and new media. She co-creates the bilingual publication Cigale with her collaborator Laure Bourgault, writes on and offline, coordinates events, and is involved in research on productive (mis)uses of Zoom. As part of her MA thesis research she is looking at feminist practices of information activism online. Specifically, she’s using archival web research, digital storytelling, and curation, to explore how Ada X (fka Studio XX) — a feminist artist-run centre dedicated to gender and technology, founded in 1996 — has organized, stored, and provided access to information through their website. As is clear in our conversation, these aren’t just research interests; they are entirely enmeshed with Anne-Marie’s life as a queer feminist who has been “online” since childhood.
The first half of this conversation took place in August, drinking coffee in a treehouse. Anne-Marie and I set out to talk about trust. We were trying to get at a question: how does the desire for power warp our relations, and how can solidarities remake them? The treehouse is in many ways the starting place for the ideas we keep returning to. It’s a makeshift, DIY structure which is constantly repurposed according to the desires and needs of those that come across it.
Returning to this conversation in December and January, we were in an exhausted twilight zone. We were measuring the accumulating losses of this year, relentless and brutal, alongside its clarified solidarities; feeling like any kind of personal, internal transformation only begins to mean something, to matter in a way that has public or historical impact, when it's held inside communally determined responsibilities. In this conversation, we return to the topic of trust, and move into discussion of translation, hacking, queer appropriation, glitch, and more; but we start with conspiracy.
I was thinking about conspiracy because of Co-Conspirator Press, where we just put in a joint order, and because you shared that talk, Communal Care and Liberation, between MJ Balvanera of Co-Conspirator and Adriana Monsalve of Homie House Press.
I love this use of co-conspirator, how transparently political and communal it is. And a conspiracy is such an interesting force; I think it reveals a lot about how trust gets built or eroded, how institutions lose the trust of their members, and people who may have been participating in an institution instead decide to quit and form alternative communities of trust. Of course, conspiracies also fuel incredibly damaging movements which are if anything just more cruel, violent, and unpredictable versions of unjust systems.
But the nature of power, and the fact that social or public trust is not actually possible in a context of coordinated oppression, I think maybe means that other kinds of movements for justice also have to take shape as conspiracies. What co-conspiracies can you think of, or imagine, that are built on a foundation of generosity, liberation, and communal care?
I think the pandemic has revealed huge institutional gaps as well as institutional violence, and that many of us have felt abandoned by public institutions. It has also demonstrated the strength of community action and community resilience in situations of crisis. New support networks have formed outside official structures, to pool resources essential to the preservation of life and dignity.
Conspiracy, or co-conspiracy, appears to me to be a gesture rooted in speculation, not in prediction and probability, but rather in the collective imagination of radical futures. I believe this is what the work of Co-Conspirator Press is dedicated to, in their approach which considers publication as a pedagogical tool. Their catalogue highlights this, with a selection of manuals, workbooks, and pamphlets that build new modes of anti-oppressive solidarity (for example, with Meenadchi's Decolonizing Non-Violent Communication). Conspiracy is not only an exchange, but also an act of care for our future selves.
I am also thinking of the Anglo-Saxon concept of gossip, and of the discrediting of words exchanged between people who identify as women. In this article, Silvia Fredericci deconstructs the history behind the "demonization" of gossip and the devaluation of female knowledge to highlight how these secret exchanges, rumours, and opaque transmissions are inscribed as a radical form of solidarity and preservation for women’s personal and social well-being. Marginalized voices are experimenting with news ways of spreading the word inside and outside of social networks, with the circulation of personal testimonies, denunciations, and statements. It’s as if society has begun to leak from all sides, as if silence has reached a saturation point and people have begun to conspire―by collectively writing open letters, by creating spaces for community discussion, by producing new alliances―to bring to the foreground what has been designed to remain as invisible architecture, in order to better dismantle it.
So I was attracted by this idea of building kinship through translation, through mutual understanding beyond mother-tongues, and of envisioning translation and bilingual publishing as tools for creation in and of themselves.
We might think of a conspiracy as precisely the opposite of trust, or rather as a direct outcome of mistrust, but I think that the roles of editor, translator, and community member, some of the many roles that you inhabit, can be conspiratorial in a way which inspires deep trust, especially if the goal is to sustain radical solidarity and collective well-being. I’m wondering if there are parallels between the spaces of conspiracy and gossip, and those created by the slippage between different languages. In the collaborative publishing project Cigale, which you work on with Laure, translation has been one of your central curiosities. The publication is French-English bilingual, and I believe you pair each text with a different translator. Can you tell me more about this publishing effort, how it takes shape collaboratively, and how you think about the function of translation in that context?
What I like to remind myself about Cigale and how it started is that it came out of exhaustion. Laure and I were both at moments in our lives where we felt creatively “dried up” from working and/or studying full-time and from being inside large institutions which overwhelmed our capacity for spontaneity. We saw this publishing project as a way to provide ourselves with the means to do what gives us the most strength: collaborate and facilitate new encounters around creation.
After having completed our undergrad degrees in Visual Arts―me in the fairly anglophone environment associated with Concordia University and Laure in the francophone milieu at UQAM―we realized that our communities were evolving in parallel without really encountering each other. The idea of producing a bilingual publication seemed to us to be one tactic to bring together not only languages, but also practices and modes of expression. I was immersed in research on translation studies and had just discovered the journal Tessera, which had a major impact on my appreciation of translation. The journal was founded in the mid 80’s by feminist translators and literary theorists Barbara Godard, Daphne Marlatt, Kathy Mezei, and Gail Scott. The discovery of such a correspondence between Franco and Anglo women writers who were articulating the work of translation as a gesture of care for one's work was particularly stimulating. The journal published its last issue in 2005 and I haven't heard of similar initiatives since. So I was attracted by this idea of building kinship through translation, through mutual understanding beyond mother-tongues, and of envisioning translation and bilingual publishing as tools for creation in and of themselves.
Translation, whether thinking of a text or other kinds of translation, reveals at the same time the potential of language to mutate according to context and need, and the very real limits, or gaps, in each particular language. Have you discovered, in your translation work or in bilingualism as an element of your practice and work, some of these gaps? Can they be productive? Can they be necessary, perhaps even a space for new forms of communication, as you just described?
Translation is a motion between forms. At least that's the way I understand it in my work. When one shifts information from one form to another, there is both erosion and accumulation at play. My experience with digital media and with encoding and decoding processes consolidated this understanding of translation. When we compress or convert digital media files from one format to another new things can emerge. It's also a way to circulate information differently, and to invite its reading from another perspective.
When we work on a new issue of Cigale, we try to match authors with translators very carefully, in an aim to instigate a new conversation through translation. I feel that authors/artists can learn a lot about their practice and how it is understood by having another person examine it so closely for linguistic interpretation. It’s surprising how language can amplify certain tonalities in the text too. In my personal experience, I’ve felt as if I were discovering a totally new space, with a different aesthetic, a space that breathes differently, that has a different rhythm of words, punctuation and syntax.
In their curatorial statement for the PHI_portal, Glitch as Wormhole, nènè myriam konaté and Lucas LaRochelle write, “We sew connections not because we expect a return on investment from the relationships built in a singular conversation, but because we long to care for someone other than ourselves simply because they are present. Central to this sense of longing is a flickering hope that these intimacies, born in the immediacy of the encounter, can transform us.” They quote José Esteban Muñoz, who says that “often experimental intimacies falter. But those failures and efforts to fail have a certain value despite their ends.”
I like to think about an attempted translation, even a failed one, as an experimental intimacy across what might appear at first to be at an uncrossable distance. You are currently doing research on Club Quarantine and Zoom, with Dr. Stefanie Duguay. You describe the ways Club Q is “queering the affordances” of Zoom. I wondered if you see this idea of faltering, sometimes failing, but still meaningful “experimental intimacies” playing out on Zoom? Or perhaps in the other kinds of collaborations you are involved with?
Since the spring of 2020, we’ve seen how the closure of queer bars and nightclubs and the cancellation of pop-up events has affected the queer community, not only in dissolving sources of income for entertainment and nightlife workers, but also in the loss of points of contact with friends, lovers, allies, and chosen families. On the first day of the lockdown a group of Toronto club kids and artists initiated a series of online queer dance parties on Zoom, in order to provide a space of queer intimacy, communal care, and mutual aid. Through our research as part of the Digital Intimacy, Gender & Sexuality Lab (DIGS Lab), Dr. Duguay and I are looking at how certain features and functionalities of Zoom are used in order to “digitize” the queer party. We observe how queer counterpublics appropriate corporate Silicon Valley-based platforms such as Zoom to deploy resilient, alternative infrastructure for community building in times of emergency. One of the core concepts of our analysis is Sara Ahmed’s notion of “queer use”, which she describes as uses other than those which were intended, and by others than those for whom they were intended.
Internet connection, bandwidth speed, (un)limited data download and computing capacity are variables that determine the accessibility of the event. But still, for many, this digitization of the queer party was an opportunity to finally be able to participate in queer community gatherings, if we think for example of people living outside urban centres, people with disabilities, people who have to take care of children or relatives.
Returning to the concept of faltering, there are moments when the ephemerality of Club Q becomes more noticeable: in the interruption of a sound signal, a glitchy video stream, the variability of their events calendar, and most importantly, the palpable lack of physical proximity. I think most people agree that online queer parties are an emergency response to an urgent situation, but that they should never replace in-person queer gatherings. Nevertheless, virtual queer parties such as Club Q create ephemeral spaces where queers can continue to build intimacy and find joy together.
The spaces and platforms currently available to artists and writers interested in being in any way public are mostly designed, explicitly or implicitly, as tools for the projects of heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. Zoom is one example which received a fair amount of critical attention in 2020. In the research you’re doing on Club Quarantine, but also in all of the diverse elements of your practice, I see an interest in forms of knowledge and creation which take shape via the refusal to use those platforms as they are intended (we could even think about gossip as a version of this refusal). Tell me about what informs this interest (although interest might be a lukewarm word for it). Who are you learning from? Where do you see some of these mis-uses happening?
When I began my studies in Visual Arts at Cégep, I discovered the work of feminist artists who used new media and digital technologies in extremely intimate ways, countering masculinist and elitist discourses. Through these artists, I came across the cyberfeminist movement and feminist hacktivism, which emphasize the reappropriation of technologies and peer learning as modes of emancipation and autonomy. I also discovered the concepts of the dérive and détournement as tactical interventions in everyday life. Later, the time I spent in the field of digital archives introduced me to open source and free culture. Perhaps it was then that I started to get interested in web countercultures.
My interest in alternative digital media and technology is also informed by feminist science and technology studies, a critical lens through which we can observe how science and technology have been built around these projects of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, ableism, capitalism, and settler colonialism. The presumption that science and technology are objective, neutral, or universal has as an impact the erasure of certain groups and realities that do not fit into the prescribed definition of subjects. Looking at how gender, race, sexuality, ability, and class, affect and are affected by technology is a starting point in saying no to these systems of domination.
Independent publishing, in some ways, also allows for building such spaces of refusal. It serves as a way of circulating forms of knowledge and creation apart from mainstream communication channels. It also supports the process of defining our subjectivities as individuals and collectives. If you take it in its most literal sense, publishing is an act of bringing something into the public sphere. Through the pages of a book or a digital publication, new associations appear and can be preserved. So going back to the feminist interpretation of gossip, publishing can also embody a radical practice of knowledge mobilization, outside of institutions.
If we compare these practices― feminism, hacking, experimental and independent publishing―they all have in common the fact of refusing or diverting the use prescribed by the norm in order to claim other ways of doing things, other ways of being in society. They present themselves as an opening, as a way of grasping what is at hand and of creating a place for ourselves where we would otherwise have restricted access. These methods of making demands are also a way of giving oneself the means to build one's own infrastructures on the margins of dominant and oppressive thinking, to come together to learn, to give oneself technical knowledge and, in the case of digital technologies in particular, to feel in control of one's environment rather than being controlled by it.
We talked about conspiracy; I believe that we also need to conspire about how we organize, and to speculate about what platforms for change could look like if they had these concepts of liberation, of autonomy, of sovereignty and justice at their very core.
There are limits to creative mis-use, appropriation, or disruption, something I think you pay close attention to in your research and projects; structures which are designed for oppression can’t necessarily be tricked into contributing to projects of liberation and sovereignty. Where are you also looking for new structures whose architecture is made to encourage trust and solidarity?
The question of the limits of appropriation and misappropriation is very complex. As I mentioned briefly earlier, several resource pooling projects have emerged since the lockdown. Although these grassroots initiatives make it possible to democratize access to resources and rally communities behind common struggles, they often depend on proprietary, for-profit platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram, Zoom) that take advantage of user data and exercise control (sometimes non-consensual) over the privacy and protection of that data.
We talked about conspiracy; I believe that we also need to conspire about how we organize, and to speculate about what platforms for change could look like if they had these concepts of liberation, of autonomy, of sovereignty and justice at their very core. I think this is what Audre Lorde meant when she said that the "the Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house"; there are limits to what we can accomplish by using the very tools that perpetrate oppression in order to disrupt systemic violence and inequalities.
Some initiatives are doing remarkable work in this area, including the Design Justice Network. The principle of Design Justice, developed by activist and media-maker Sasha Constanza-Chock, goes beyond the issues raised by technological production: I believe it is also a radical theoretical and ethical tool for envisioning emancipated futures.
One of the initiatives I've attended the last two years that has taught me a lot about web sovereignty and the internet is Our Networks, a conference about building alternative network infrastructures. The event focuses on decentralized Internet technologies (such as peer-to-peer, mesh networks, distributed web, and blockchain technologies) to envision an Internet where data would be distributed among users rather than stored on servers belonging to large companies.
In terms of guerrilla sharing of information resources, one initiative that I find particularly inspiring is the Pirate Care Syllabus, led by Valeria Graziano, Tomislav Medak and Marcell Mars. Their Pirate Care process implements "practices of self-management, alternative approaches to social reproduction and the sharing of tools, technologies and knowledge" that cross the boundaries of obedience. In a presentation given this summer as part of MoneyLab, Medak explained how the technological framework of the Pirate Care Syllabus allows for thematic collections of texts to be assembled, preserved equally, and maintained independent of mega platforms and their tools (the texts collected in the syllabus are hosted and distributed via Memory of the World).
Closer to us, in the cultural milieu, we are observing with great interest the forms of alliances that are emerging on the margins of institutions to protect and support cultural workers. This summer you and I and many of our friends had frequent exchanges on the various forms of exploitation that persist in the arts and culture milieu. You introduced us to VALU CO-OP, a union based in Vancouver. Here in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal, community conversations have been organized in order to address these issues: like Journées sans culture (2015-2017), a series of assemblies for artists and cultural workers to discuss the state of their field and identify community needs in order to “reimagine the artistic ecosystem”; and We are not surprised (2020), a community discussion on abuses of power in Quebec arts organizations which you have helped organize with Ada X along with other feminist arts spaces. It will be interesting to see the outcomes of these past and ongoing collective mobilizations.
You also have an interest in alternative archiving initiatives, notably in your thesis research. How did this interest in archives emerge for you? Is it connected to your interest in countercultural digital heritage?
Maybe my interest in archives has to do with my upbringing and an early obsession with administrative work. I was born and raised in Gatineau, on the border of Ontario and on the edge of the national capital. My parents worked in the public service and had a very tidy life: they took the bus around the corner every morning to be at work at 9:00 a.m. and came home in the evening just before 5:00 p.m. On Christmas Eve, when the daycare was closed, my parents would take my sister and I to work with them for the day. I remember the fun I had exploring the cubicles, rummaging through binders twice my size, using my father's electric typewriter with its endless rolls of perforated paper. I admired the stacks of sheets in numbered boxes, the computers with their noisy keyboards, the multi-line telephones, the printers: all these media which interacted with each other.
From there I think I developed a broader interest in information systems. Taking art history courses, I found the documentary practices of conceptual artists from the 1970s, which allowed me to consider that documentation could take on a more important place than the artwork itself. In 2014 I got a contract to assist in the processing of the archives of the centre d'artistes Est-Nord-Est. This first experience of working in the archives was significant; I had no training in archiving, but I had an infinite curiosity for this new discipline. When I got a contract as a digital archives technician at the Canadian Center for Architecture in 2017, I saw the gap in resources between artist-run centres and large cultural institutions. At the CCA I was working in a team of several archivists. Most artist-run centres cannot afford to employ even one person full time to manage their records and process their archives. Their history, as well as the history of their community, is vulnerable.
There is certainly a connection between my interest in archives and in counterculture. Counterculture can influence the way we preserve our heritages, by determining our own preservation standards, by sharing archival tasks within a group, by collectively defining the parameters of accessibility and dissemination. Rather than relying on institutions such as national archives, that have been designed around the same matrix of domination that we were talking about earlier, counter-archives testify to the inventiveness of communities in preserving their heritage — a history of relationships, oppression, mobilization, creations — on their own terms.
Alongside your research, writing, and publishing, you also make new media work. Do you still consider yourself to have a studio practice? If yes, what shape does it take? If not, is it something you want to re-engage with, or have your methods shifted away from this sort of framework for research and production?
My research and creation methods have adapted out of necessity. As you know, I briefly had a studio for a year but in the end, all I worked on there was coordination and administrative work for Cigale! It’s very difficult to prioritize practice and creation when you’re a cultural worker and have other ongoing projects; there is always something more urgent, something more tangible that has precedence over artistic exploration.
It took a long time after my undergraduate degree before I was able to situate myself in the arts milieu and define how I wanted to give shape to my practice. I came to the conclusion that what mattered most to me in creation was not the production itself, but rather relationships, and the care taken to bring different elements into dialogue, be they people, concepts, or documents. This description flirts with curating, but it goes beyond exhibition-making. That's why I particularly appreciate the role of editor: a position where I get to carefully weave relationships, and which lies at the intersection of creation and dissemination.
In one of our conversations this summer, we discussed the idea of a citational ethics, where recognition of the links and sources on which our practices are based would be brought to the forefront. I realize that I haven’t talked about any of my previous artistic projects here, but rather about other efforts, relationships and stories that I find inspiration from. I think we both feel this need to work in collaboration with others, in a citational manner, rather than in a "self-sufficient" way. I don't see my practice as being at the center of anything; rather, it is a constellation where I’m allowed to make my voice resonate with others. I do these things while trying to maintain the pleasure of research and creation, without pretension. Activities that are driven by fun and play are increasingly rare and precious, and I wish to cultivate this ability to explore creation from a perspective of playfulness.
Where are you writing from?
I started writing this morning in the sun, and now it's pitch dark outside; the first curfew has just been announced.
Our phones started ringing at 6:30 pm to give us a warning; police cars are circulating on the streets flashing their lights as if we were living in a military state.
I am writing after a week that could have been spread over a year, after a series of "historical events" that pile up on top of each other.
I write from my white body and my Western brain, from which I try to dismantle the blocks of supremacy.
I write this from a constant motion between French and English.
I write this from Indigenous land, from a land that is not mine, but that my ancestors have proudly claimed as theirs.
I write from hope for reparations and solidarities.
I write from nascent and enduring loves.
I write from a desire to unlearn oppression, and to build new structures based on mutual care.
And as a last question: what are you reading lately?
I personally cannot read just one thing at a time: usually I create some sort of assemblage of three or four books―one essay or academic work, a novel, and a graphic novel―between which I alternate according to my energy level, mood, and schedule.
Right now I am reading a graphic novel on Frantz Fanon by Frederic Ciriez and Romain Lamy published by Éditions La Découverte. It mostly focuses on Fanon’s meeting with Jean-Paul Sartres, Simone de Beauvoir and Claude Lanzmann and it is so beautifully illustrated!
On the essay/academic spectrum of things, I started reading Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies by Cait McKinney, for my master's research. The book is adapted from her PhD doctoral dissertation on practices of archiving, preservation, and dissemination of information resources by and for lesbian feminists. It’s lovely to read their account of their research work at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn and to get a glimpse into this space and its collections.
I also borrowed Paul B. Preciado’s Un appartement sur Uranus from Laure a few weeks ago when I was going to feed her cats.
The book is getting a bit dusty on my bedside table, but I also have a bookmark placed in Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam's Arcadie. The novel tells the story of Farah, a young intersex person going through puberty, who lives with her family in a kind of libertine cult secluded from modern technology and electromagnetic waves. I can’t say much about where this is going for now, but I’ll tell you more about it soon!